With up to three feet of snow forecast in the latest winter storm to hit Juneau, Eaglecrest Ski Area officials had to close the Ptarmigan lift for repairs.
The lift - the only one of the area's three to service advanced terrain - will be closed until Saturday, Jan. 17, the area announced Thursday.
"To take away people's candy, this is disappointing to all of us," General Manager Kirk Duncan said.
The area is reporting a 120-inch base at the top - the deepest in the country and fourth-deepest in the world, according to skicentral.com. Good snow helped the area break revenue records on several days over the Christmas holiday.
The 30-year-old Ptarmigan lift made it through inspections in the summer without any flags, though an inspection Thursday revealed a ball bearing had begun to disintegrate, Duncan said. The problem is unusual but not unexpected, given its age and normal wear and tear, he added.
"There's a very small chance that there could be issues with the lift, but there's possibility there could be catastrophic failure causing the lift to stop very suddenly," Duncan said.
A fully loaded chairlift that stops suddenly presents a safety hazard.
"We know that we're going to have somewhere between 24 and 36 inches of new snow and it's going to drive people crazy not being able to use the lift, but we can't operate knowing there's even a small chance of negative situations occurring," Duncan said. "We're tasked with the responsibility of maintaining a safe recreating environment and that has to take complete precedent over anything else that we do."
The upper bull-wheel of the lift will be replaced with one the ski area happens to have on hand, from the mid-mountain lift waiting to be installed on the east side of the mountain. That lift, to be called Black Bear, is set to be installed next summer.
A crew from Oregon Outback Construction will work with Juneau staff to use an excavator to retrieve the Black Bear lift's bull-wheel and transport it to the top of Ptarmigan.
It'll be the second time a part from that chairlift will be used to fix Ptarmigan. Last season, a radiator was borrowed for Ptarmigan but the problem did not require a lift closure. Crews worked until 3 a.m. to make the fix and open the lift the next day.
The anticipated additional snow this weekend and corresponding avalanche danger means the ski patrol will conduct control work on the hill, so all of the terrain above the top of the Hooter lift will be closed to hikers.
Duncan said patrollers will pull passes of those who enter closed areas.
"It's just like ducking a rope line," he said.
The Hooter lift, which accesses intermediate trails, and the Platter lift for beginners will open during normal operating hours. Lower-mountain lift tickets will be on sale for $33.
Season pass holders will not receive a rebate, Duncan said.
"Eaglecrest offers deeply discounted season passes and even with a week's closure, season passes offer a great value," he said.
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